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After Trey Lance's first 49ers win, nobody knows what happens next

One thing we know is that we won't know anything until Saturday or Sunday, given how San Francisco coach Kyle Shanahan insists Jimmy Garoppolo may be back.

NFL: Houston Texans at San Francisco 49ers
San Francisco 49ers quarterback Trey Lance (5) looks to throw a pass against the Houston Texans in the first quarter on Sunday, Jan. 2, at Levi's Stadium in Santa Clara, Calif.
Cary Edmondson/USA TODAY Sports
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SANTA CLARA, Calif. — Whoo, the San Francisco 49ers are in the Super Bowl!

We're talking about the Super Bowl ... of Second guessing and Armchair Quarterbacking.

Trey Lance led — that's right, led — the 49ers to a 23-7 win over the Texans Sunday, and you know what that means.

Neither do I.

Will Lance start next Sunday in Los Angeles against the Rams in what might be a must-win game for the 49ers to make the playoffs? Or will Jimmy Garoppolo recover sufficiently from a thumb injury to take back the reins?


Furthermore, if the 49ers make the playoffs and Lance looks good again against the Rams, who will start for the 49ers in the playoffs?

Raise your hand if you want to see Lance start next Sunday. Okay, everyone, put down your hands, and those torches and pitchforks.

One thing we know is that we won't know anything until Saturday or Sunday. Kyle Shanahan says he'll run Garoppolo back out there against the Rams if Garoppolo's hand is ready. Not necessarily 100 percent, but good enough.

That means we're in for an entire week of churning daily drama — reports and rumors. And whenever Shanahan makes his decision, he's not going to let the world know until the last minute, to keep the Rams guessing.

This much we do know: the prospect of the super-green rookie Lance starting that big game Sunday, and then maybe a playoff game the following week, is no longer a frightening prospect.

Because against the Texans, he looked like an NFL quarterback.

"Nothing's too big for (Lance)," Shanahan said after the game, complimenting the rookie's poise. "He's a competitor, he enjoys playing football, and he really enjoys the moment. ... When he's out there, we know we've got a guy the guys can follow."

But he's still the backup.


Lance definitely doesn't scare easily. The 49ers' offense took some time getting on track and was held scoreless in the team's first five possessions, until the 49ers scraped out a field goal to end the first half.

"Yeah, I think I got into a better rhythm (as the game went on)," Lance said. "Probably settled in after that two-minute drive (for the 49ers' first score). That's when I started talking to (QB coach) Rich (Scangarello) and Kyle, and kind of let them know that I felt settled, honestly."

NFL: Houston Texans at San Francisco 49ers
San Francisco 49ers quarterback Trey Lance (5) tries to elude Houston Texans defensive end DeMarcus Walker (55) in the first quarter on Sunday, Jan. 2, at Levi's Stadium in Santa Clara, California.
Cary Edmondson/USA TODAY Sports

In that first-half muddle was a "bad interception" by Lance (Shanahan's description), a hard sack and another terrible throw off a scramble.

But Lance calmed down in the second half. Hooked up with Brandon Aiyuk on a 43-yarder, then led a 58-yard touchdown drive capped by an 8-yard touchdown pass to Elijah Mitchell for a 10-7 lead.

Lance was 16-for-23, for 249 yards and a 116.0 passer rating. He averaged 10.8 yards per completion, more than double the 5.1 yards per completion of Houston's rookie quarterback Davis Mills.

According to Next Gen Stats, Lance's average air yards per attempt, 11.5, was the most by any 49ers quarterback over the last four seasons. As was his 206 yards on 10-yards-plus passes.

Lance did this despite the fact that the 49ers' vaunted ground game, which is supposed to set up the passing game, was also unspectacular early on. And despite the fact that George Kittle was targeted just two times in the game, and caught one ball, a high sizzler that he brought down one-handed for a 29-yard gain on the 49ers' final scoring (FG) march.

Also working against Lance? Especially early on, it appeared that Shanahan wasn't completely comfortable calling plays for the rookie who was starting his second game, and who plays so much differently than Garoppolo.


This week, expect daily reports on Garoppolo's recovery progress, the 49ers treating his possible comeback as if they were waiting for the return of Tom Brady or Patrick Mahomes, rather than a quarterback Shanahan and GM John Lynch crowned as a lame duck before the season ever started.

Many of we non-expert outside observers see in Lance a guy who makes some of the same mistakes Garoppolo makes — underthrowing receivers, throwing into a crowd. Call them veteran mistakes. But Lance has the ability Garoppolo lacks, of scooting around and making things happen when the play breaks down. He can dance.

Lance's uneven but still impressive outing left many of the Couch Quarterbacks wondering what Lance might be doing now had he played more during the season, at least situationally, as Shanahan originally planned.

Mills, for instance, was a third-round draftee who opened the season as third-stringer, got the starting job by default, and has played so well in recent games, even with a weak supporting cast, that some consider him the best rookie quarterback in the league. It's called game experience.

Lance got some of that himself on Sunday.

Maybe he'll get more next Sunday. Or next season. Stay tuned for this week's daily 49ers drama to find out.

Scott Ostler — Email: Twitter: @scottostler — is a columnist for San Francisco Chronicle — — which is distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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